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Published December 19, 2006
Volume 14, Number 12



A Booming Business is the Result of
Christina Petrosky’s Focus on Family


By Jay Hipps
Network Editor



Christina Petrosky’s first choice for a career was in hotel management, but she discovered something that knocked it off her list before she was even out of school.

“You really can’t have a family life in that arena,” she recalls. “Especially being in food and beverage, because I was the food and beverage manager, you’re working 12 to 16 hour days and it wears on you. If you want a family life, you really can’t (have one).”

If there’s a theme to Petrosky’s career, it’s the coupling of an entrepreneurial mindset with the fervent belief that family comes first.

A native of Fremont, Petrosky took her first steps down her unique career path when a family member and restaurant owner asked her to take over management of that establishment. Armed with little more than a drive to succeed and a willingness to learn, Petrosky liked it well enough to study hotel and restaurant management in college. Her experience as food and beverage manager with Hilton Hotels showed her the long hours required in that industry, however, and she soon found another reason to make a career change.

“They had big layoffs at that time, 1991 or ‘92, and that was something that made me think I had to find something steady so I didn’t have to worry about losing my job,” she says. Fortunately, she realized that some of the skills she developed as a restaurant manager could be applied to any business. “In that position, you do forecasting and profit and loss statements, stuff like that. You have this accounting background so when it came time to settle down and have kids, I chose that direction, because every place needs accounting.”

That path had its drawbacks as well, as it turns out. She was hired only twice but thanks to high tech company name changes and buyouts, she worked for five different companies before being laid off again after Siebel Systems acquired Motiva, then her employer, in late 2003. “When I lost that job, I decided at that point that I had to do something, because I have three girls that count on me financially,” she says.

Lack of certainty over one’s future has been a motivator for many entrepreneurs and it was what finally convinced Petrosky to pursue an idea she had been pondering for many years. As a working mom with three small children, she knew there was an unmet demand for a children’s activity center that was available on a drop-in basis, where parents could leave their kids for a few hours knowing that they would be safe and have fun.

“I had this idea in the back of my head for four or five years, and I decided this is the time that I should do it so I decided to go for it. I took money out of my house and decided to start the business.”

It was then that her ambition and determination really began to emerge.

“I didn’t have any experience in childcare besides just being a mom of three,” she says. “It was probably a full time job for about six months, looking up things on the Internet. It was like, ‘OK, if I want to do this, what do I have to do?’ Just making phone calls, planning ahead. I went through the classes you have to take to meet the state’s childcare licensing requirements, learned what it took to get a conditional use permit. I knew I wanted to set it up as a business that could be franchised, so I took time with color, design, setup, and all that. It took me a year to settle things before we opened.”

The first P3 Party Place opened in Hacienda Plaza, at the intersection of Stoneridge and Gibraltar drives, in October, 2004. The name comes from the founder’s last name and the fact that she has three daughters. The response from the community, she says, was “overwhelming.”

“As a financial person, I guess I have to look at it from the dollars, and within three months I was able to start paying a full paycheck to myself, and I’ve been able to keep up with that. We’ve had a couple slow months here and there but pretty much it’s been really busy and growing and growing.”

Petrosky says that there have been several keys to her company’s success, beginning with the legislated guidelines for any organization that deals with children.

“We know what the requirements are and we go beyond that. The state requires that one person on site has to be certified for CPR, but we have everybody do that. Even our party planners do that. We also have electronic door locks and surveillance system cameras, so if I’m not here as an owner, I can go on the web and see what’s going on—video and audio—and that gives parents a little more peace of mind. Parents also like knowing that everyone who works here has to go through background checks which are even more in-depth than the ones for the teachers who get hired at schools.”

Aside from the purely business side of the equation, Petrosky has other advantages. When asked the single biggest reason for her success, she has a simple answer.

“It’s because I love what I do. I don’t mind staying up late at night, I don’t mind coming in and working, because when you find something that you love to do, it’s not a job anymore. You get excited about it.

“I made it a point to know not just the names but also the personalities of the kids when I started. Now that we’re at 1,400 kids, I can’t say that I know all their names anymore, which kind of bothers me at times. I’ve always prided myself on that, and we’ve had parents who will say to me, ‘We haven’t been here for months and you remember their names!’ It’s something you have to take the time to do, because each one operates differently. I mean, I have three kids and each one of them has their own personality. But it’s hard to do since I’m working with the franchisees and am not here all the time anymore.”

Her own children have benefited greatly from the business. Like the children of all P3 employees, they have been able to use the facility themselves, and both mother and daughters have enjoyed the opportunity to have more time together. “They’re proud of me,” says Petrosky. “The last time a new franchise opened, they told me, ‘Mom, you’re going to be in every town,’ and it’s great to see that.”

Her kids may be correct about the company’s growth, too. The first P3 Party Place franchise opened in January in Brentwood, just 15 months after the grand opening of the Pleasanton location. New franchises have opened in the last five months in Roseville, Livermore, and Santa Rosa. “We also have people who are just waiting to get started and are looking for buildings in Dublin, San Ramon, Danville, and the Walnut Creek/Concord area.”

Petrosky’s entrepreneurial vision is clearly on the way to being fulfilled, but the success of her company has not changed her original values. “Probably the best thing (about our success) is being able to give something back to the community,” she says. “It’s not just a business—I get to make money, but it gives parents some peace of mind. I have some parents who bring us their kids so they can go home and take a nap since they’ve been up all night, or when they’re just sick and don’t have anybody to watch their kids. So we have a lot of parents who tell us, ‘I don’t know what I would do without you—thank you so much.’ It’s great to know that you can make a difference and help those parents out.”

 

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